Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives. This month, we’re revisiting a question we posed to artists in 2014: How do you define success as an artist?
Barbie Diewald, choreographer
Success, for me, is closely tied to ease and depth. In my work, that means many hours in a studio with my collaborators. When I have the time, space, and resources to pay my dancers, I feel like my work shows up. A Room of One’s Own : Choreographic Iteration. Perhaps I am talking about what I need for my work, my research to be “successful,” if I am interested in successful work at all (sometimes the things that don’t work interest me more). In terms of how I define being a successful artist, I think it means that my work is able to sustain itself as a specific and continuous practice, rather than a series of performance projects. My choreographic mind doesn’t operate as well when I’m creating toward performance. I learn more, and find more joy in what I do, when the work is deep, full of ease, and open-ended. Of course, performances crop up, and we meet them where we are, but I think right now I would define success as the ability to sustain a creative practice.
Joy Ladin, poet and writer
I started writing what I thought of as poems as soon as I learned to write. Like many transgender kids, I grew up feeling lonely and dissociated. Only when I wrote did I feel fully alive and present. To me, that was success. In my early twenties, I belatedly realized writing was supposed to lead to publication, prizes, recognition. When my first poem came out, I thought I had succeeded in all those ways at once. I soon realized that this was the beginning of a lifelong process of sending poems into the world, knowing most would come back. But sometimes, my poems do not return; like the dove Noah sends out after the flood, they find a place for themselves in the world. They are read by people I don’t know, by strangers whose longings sometimes rhyme with mine. This is a kind of success I never dreamed of when I was a child: that my loneliness, my pain, my joy, could speak to someone else’s; that the life that fills me when I write might fill the lives of others.
Nina Bellucci, painter
My own survival as an artist and the hope of living a life of making is dependent upon the ability to make progress and to move myself/my work forward. I know that in order to make progress, I have to do something. While I don’t necessarily have the time to get to the studio everyday, I make it a point to ask myself, “Have I taken what the day has presented to me and made the most of it?” Even if it means spending five minutes on a quick digital drawing, or stopping to notice a unique shadow and the way it stretches across the sidewalk, moving and acting thoughtfully equates to honesty, growth, and therefore, success. While as artists we may never feel like we have enough time or that we’ve reached the end or the thing we are striving towards, we can often find success within the process of getting there.
Xujun Eberlein, writer
There are things in life that “can happen upon you, but can’t be sought,” as a Chinese adage goes. Any non-unilateral endeavor – such as love, such as success – falls into this category. Those things don’t necessarily come with effort. Therefore, seeking success is never a good or useful motive for poets and writers. Yet its seductions continue to fill the publishing world with mediocre work. Prolific is not always a positive term in my dictionary.
When I was younger, sometimes writing was a labor for recognition, and there was more pain than pleasure in the laboring. As I get older and – I hope – wiser, both pain and pleasure are disappearing, what supplants them is immersion. Writing in one’s second language is never easy, even after more than a decade of trying. Yet immersion brings out the emotional depth that surprises even the writer herself. I’d like to think that is some success.
Further Reading: read the 2014 discussion How Do You Define Success as an Artist? featuring a playwright, a poet, a shoemaker, and two visual artists.
Nina Bellucci is a painter and one of the founding members of the artist collaborative Musa Collective, which is exhibiting at the Boston City Hall Scollay Square Gallery (thru 12/31) and at Lasell College in Newton (1/22-2/18). The artist will have a solo exhibition at Musa Collective (3/2-3/30) and will exhibit in “Life Size” at Slag Gallery in Brooklyn, April 2019. Nina Bellucci was recently interviewed for the I Like Your Work Podcast.
Barbie Diewald is a choreographer and dance artist who will present a new iteration of her work “Pare” at the Bodies in Motion Festival, curated by Andrea Olsen for APE@Hawley, at the Northampton Arts Trust (2/3, 5 PM).
Writer Xujun Eberlein is the author of the short story collection Apologies Forthcoming. Her essay “In Which No Sex Takes Place” appears in the fall issue of the literary journal AGNI. Her short essay “The Cremation” has been nominated by Brevity Magazine for the Pushcart Prize and “Best American Essays.”
Joy Ladin is a poet and writer whose second book of nonfiction, The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective, was just published by Brandeis University Press.
Images: photo by Peter Raper of choreographic work by Barbie Diewald, featuring dancers Jenny Bennett, Leah Fournier, Kate Martel, and Katie Martin; Nina Bellucci, SLOW REVEAL (2018), spray paint, oil pastel, pastel on canvas, 40×40 in.
Leave a Reply